Public Comment

Open Letter To Mayor Tom Bates and City Council of Berkeley and the Public: What Has Happened to Berkeley?

Kelly Hammargren RN, PHN, MBA
Monday November 30, 2015 - 03:07:00 PM

I heard it again the same phrase that has been repeated over and over, “What happened to Berkeley?” What did happen to Berkeley, the city that is revered for the Free Speech Movement, Independent Living, curb cuts, Alice Waters, Edible Schoolyard Project, courageous stands, Anti-Apartheid and now is poised to adopt Ordinance No. 7,449-N.S regulating the use of sidewalks and Ordinance No. 7,450-N.S prohibiting obstruction of City-owned planters and trees? MONEY

If money isn’t center stage, it is never far away greasing the wheels. The feel of it, the lure of it, the power of it drives dispensing with public promises and city plans. It means discarding values and contorted explanations and justifications for unjustifiable actions. It slides underneath the apt description of Library Gardens, “a Wink and a Blink” whispered in my ear over and over at the city sponsored Adeline Corridor event.

The looming questions is, What should happen at 2211 Harold Way? There are stacks of studies, letters and comments. Some of them I wrote myself, but the real question and answer has evolved over months of observation and hundreds if not thousands of conversations mostly with strangers. Their names are on the petitions unfurled in council chambers. 

The answer solidified after an invitation to speak at the Commission on Disability on November 18, 2015, it is what I have known in my heart for a long time. 2070 Allston Way, (Parcel 57-2027-7) more commonly known as the Postal Annex should be the site of a fully affordable mid-size residential building with dedicated accessible units. There could easily be fifty units, maybe more. The proximity to BART, bus and so many amenities makes it ideal for anyone with limited mobility and especially people who are wheelchair dependent.  

Parcel 2060 Allston A (Parcel 57-2027-6) the location of the Shattuck Cinemas, retail storefronts and basement needs to stay intact for the present and foreseeable future. The fully accessible Shattuck Cinemas with hundreds of thousands of annual patron visits are too important to the downtown economy to demolish. The Shattuck Cinemas did not lose business during the last recession and they will be critical in stabilizing the downtown economy through the next. For the present they will continue to draw people to downtown businesses during the current and pending construction including the Center Street Garage and the proposed 2129 Shattuck Avenue hotel now going through review. 

If you personally never go to the Shattuck Cinemas, know that people of all ages, all ethnicities come from across the Bay Area bypassing other cities for the selection of film provided by the Shattuck Cinemas. It is a diverse audience. Watching a movie on a home TV or device or the little rooms (if built) with 13 foot ceilings planned for Harold Way are a poor substitute for the experience of seeing film on the big screen.  

The City of Berkeley seems to have lost its way while continuing with high fives and self congratulations as if past leadership in justice and social movements is present today. The phrase from health care, “Do no harm” comes to mind. There are other sites for speculative investing and profiteering. A scaled down version for Harold Way was never offered. A development that preserves the Shattuck Cinemas as they now exist and a fully accessible affordable residential building at the site of the Postal Annex is a plan that the community can support and celebrate. Banners on buildings across the city tell us there is no shortage of luxury priced apartments. The shortage is affordable housing. 

While there were many hearings on Harold Way, public comment including carefully researched reviews by professionals and dedicated citizens who studied hundreds of pages of documents were dismissed and ignored. The Harold Way project was given special concessions by the City Council that beg for a taxpayers lawsuit and thorough investigation.  

Rather than a legacy of merit, the question remains just whose hands are hidden in HSR Berkeley Investments, LLC. Hill Street Realty a company that describes its business practices as, “creative income enhancing,” “expense reduction solutions” and “value add transactions.” Hill Street Realty a firm that labels properties as “transactions.” 

The concession gift by the City Council and excessive profits to be garnered by HSR Berkeley Investments, LLC. point to something more nefarious than just a love of high rise buildings or a naive City Council. Right now there is a hot construction market and other cities see developers making major offers to get their toe in the game while Berkeley elected and appointed officials bend over backwards to give concessions taking actions that cut into the heart of needed city services.  

What has happened to Berkeley?